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Special Report
Last Updated: 11/03/2008
Peace and Order in Somalia
Abukar Arman

Key words: Ethiopia, USA, Somaila, foreign occupation, terrorism, insurgency, political Islam, financial crisis, peace, democracy, horn of Africa, regional conflict, Islamic Courts Union (ICU), Transitional Federal Government (TFG)

In light of the development of several critical issues, including U.S. economic volatility and the new political direction it is likely to turn towards, it is not farfetched to predict that the Washington-supported Ethiopian occupation of Somalia will soon come to an end.  

However, what ensues might not provide comfort to some who erroneously bought into the mindset that politics and Islam cannot and should not mix. But, unfortunately, their reaction would be the element that would tip the scale.[1]

Evidently, Ethiopia is unable to feed her own people and thus could not feasibly sustain this occupation without Washington’s financial, political, and technical support.[2] In fiscal year 2007, U.S. awarded the Ethiopian regime approximately $300 million dollars in non-humanitarian aid, and it was supposed to award double that amount in fiscal year 2008 in order to “fight against Islamists in neighboring Somalia”. Be as it may, today, Ethiopia is on a political slippery slope, and unless it takes drastic measures (and soon), it will likely become the next epicenter of violence in the Horn of Africa.  

The cruel occupation and the violent insurgency that it has inspired have paved the way for the creation of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. According to the UN, over 3 million Somalis are now on the verge of starvation[3], and over 1 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs).[4] This, coupled with the widely documented brutal oppression against ethnically Somali people in Ogadenia have profoundly contributed to the rapid erosion of Ethiopia’s international image. Ethiopia has become Africa’s hegemonic brute with a long record of gross human rights abuses and war crimes violations.  

Last year, ten U.S. Senators sent a joint, bi-partisan letter to the Secretary of State expressing their grave concern over Ethiopia’s mounting human rights violation record.[5] Likewise, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that became known as The Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act.[6]

Compounding the pressure, the Somali insurgency is getting much fiercer and more popular every day, while public trust in the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) utterly erodes. So, however one assesses this situation, there is no escaping the writing on the wall: the lethal debacle that led to the worst misery in Somali history is coming to an end.  

Now, the question is: Would the failure of the TFG establish peace and order in Somalia? Would that set the stage for Somalia to become, as some have been saying, a breeding ground or a safe haven for fugitive terrorists? Would the new government ensure security for Somalia’s neighbors and respect their territorial integrities?  

Of course, it would be naïve to think that the Somali political problem, as intertwined set of complex issues as it is, could be solved the day after the Ethiopian troops vacate Somalia. It will take a process, a painful one at that; but it will certainly be an improvement over the current nightmare.  

Naturally, the insurgents will declare victory. But, they are not monolithic; neither in ideology nor in identity. They are a mixture of what’s left of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and its radical wing Al-Shabaab, secularist nationalists, victims of the occupation, and clan loyalists. However, it is highly plausible for an inter-factional power struggle to ignite. One that is reminiscent of the May 2006 when ICU was fighting for its survival against a CIA-backed gang of most abhorred warlords in Mogadishu who called themselves the Alliance for Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism.  

In due course, there will be peaceful surrenders, amnesty, and disarmaments.  

How soon will this come to pass; and, whether or not the triumphant entity will be willing to share power; and, how susceptible they will be to radicalization depends mainly on how Washington reacts. And the last thing that Washington wants to do is to repeat the same ill-advised reaction that led to the current catastrophe in the first place. 

For almost a decade, the mention of the word “Islamist” has effectively blurred the West’s sense of perspective. Everything was seen through the biased prism of the “global war on terrorism”, hence a blanket rejection was thrown over any form of “political Islam”- a loaded phrase that connotes something sinister and evil.  

However, even in this landscape of predisposed negative attitudes toward anything that mixes Islam with politics, the Islamists have an unmatched record of public service; even against the internationally recognized TFG. The former operates schools, hospitals, and other social infrastructure, and for six months before the occupation, they removed every checkpoint in Mogadishu and brought a semblance of peace.  

Of course, the Islamists have made many reckless mistakes. Certain hardliners within the courts have haphazardly restricted fundamental liberties such as the right to watch movies and the right of women to opt out of wearing hijab.  

Even against this backdrop, however, Islamists still ride high when it comes to sincerity of action. They are confident that the will of the masses will ultimately prevail against foreign occupation, and would very likely be welcomed by the Somali people, albeit with vigilant skepticism. 

People in Somalia are looking forward to a new, consensus-building leadership who puts law and order first; leadership that would bring an end to the kidnapping, rape, human-trafficking, and piracy that have become all too common. Leadership that would subscribes to enlightened nationalism devoid of irredentist aspiration. Once given a choice, people will embrace pluralistic, non-puritanical Islamic governance.    

To achieve this, people are yearning for a visionary and a charismatic leader who can articulate a new vision for the future and inspire the masses to dream of a new Somalia.

[1]Kristof, Nicholas D. (October 25, 2008) “The Endorsement From Hell” New York Times

[2] Schlein, Lisa (May 16, 2008) “Aid Agencies Say Thousands of Ethiopians Facing Starvation” Voice of America News

[3] UN agency IRIN (October 8, 2008) “SOMALIA: NGOs Urge International Community to Protect Civilians”

[4] Reuters report (October 6, 2008) “Violence Sends 37,000 Somalis Fleeing Mogadishu”

[5] Benadir Watch (August 1, 2007) “Ethiopia: Letter from U.S. Senator Feingold On Reported Ogaden Human Rights Abuses” United States Senate Washington, D.C.

[6] Ha, Kim Chi (06/25/2008) Ethiopian Human Rights Bill Stalls  The Hill On-line

Abukar Arman is a writer who lives in Ohio, USA. His work has appeared on the pages of International Herald Tribune, Al-Jazeera Magazine, Arab News, and Foreign Policy In Focus.